The only thing missing Saturday night was the horses at the first Orange County Youth Rodeo Association Draw-down. With a country theme; the outdoors was brought inside at the Orangefield Elementary Cafeteria. Included in the décor were championship saddles won by local youth.

Under all the cowboy hats were members of the newly formed association, young rodeo enthusiasts and those that support them.

“Last year before the state championships, we had a little chicken dinner fundraiser, then after the state finals, at the beginning of this year, we decided to go ahead and make it an association and get something organized for the future,” said Will Winfree, a charter member of the group.

“All the money raised goes directly back into the kids, Orange County Youth,” said Chad Jenkins, president of the group. “This will be a continuing project with us from now on.” Jenkins said, “This is our only [fundraiser] this year.”

It’s called a draw-down because of the way prizes were awarded.

One hundred forty-nine tickets were sold for a rib eye steak meal for two. All the tickets went into a drawing. The first number out won a prize, then every 10th one after that won a prize, “except for half way which is 75, they [received] a prize there.” Guests also had a second chance to win in the drawing. Of each 50 tickets drawn, those that did not win were put in a jar. Fifteen or so tickets were drawn for prizes from those.

There was also a live and silent auction to raise funds.

Brother Dale Lee from Cowboy Church helped emcee the event and provided the blessing.
The next rodeo for junior high students will be this weekend in Lufkin.

“We start rodeoing in October, “said Jenkins. “The state’s broken down into regions. We’re part of Region V.

“They have to qualify to go to state contest. They only take so many per event.”

The state event for junior high students is held in Gonzales.

“For the senior kids, it’s held in Abilene.” Jenkins said, “When I say senior kids, its high school kids.”

“My son [Tanner Jenkins] was 3rd in the state in chute dogging [last year],” said Jenkins. “We went to nationals, which was in Gallup, New Mexico, for junior high. For high school, it’s in Gillette, Wyoming I believe.”

“Rodeo tradition runs deep in Orange County, believe it or not.”

Jenkins says participating in rodeos is a year round endeavor. “If they’re not rodeoing in the region, these kids are open rodeoing. They’re members of different youth associations throughout, all over Southeast Texas.

“These are really some good kids.”

The junior high rodeo finals are at the end of March. “Our state contest is the first weekend in June.”

Those qualifying for state are determined by a point system. “They have ten rodeos and they have to get so many points to continue on,” said Jenkins.

Wesley Ackerman, 17, is a junior at Orangefield High School. He has been rodeoing since he was 3 or 4 years old. Today, Ackerman owns four horses. He was given his first one around the age of 4.

Some of the very first events he competed in were dummy roping and mutton busting.
In the eighth grade he earned Reserved Champion at state and 4th in Chute Dogging. Ackerman went to nationals in both events.

Will Winfree is the father of eighth grader Jesse Winfree, 14. “He won region last year, so we’ll try to at least. make it to state again.” Winfree competes in team roping, calf roping, chute dogging and ribbon roping.

“It keeps kids out of trouble,” said Will Winfree. “They’re practicing every day, not running the roads and getting into trouble. You’re not going to win if you don’t practice, and they like to win.”

“If somebody is interested they can sure contact me [at 409-988-9448], or the best person to contact would be Mrs. Toni Cogbill, our secretary,” said Jenkins. Cogbill can be reached at 409-745-1326 or 409-658-4768.

“We meet about once a month minimum, and before this we were meeting about every two weeks prior to this event,” said Jenkins.

There is no set meeting place. “We move around,” said Jenkins. Meetings are held in different member’s homes. “We usually just e-mail call-outs saying we’re gonna meet this day.”

All of Orange County is welcome to join the group. “It is open to everyone.”

Jenkins said he hadn’t planned on being the president. “That’s the one meeting I missed, and they voted me in. I haven’t missed any since.”

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.